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Dames at Sea, show tunes and good times

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If last week's Politheatrics 2012 festival was a theatrical farmers market, chockablock with complex, nutritious fare, by comparison Dames at Sea is that inevitable trip to the Baskin-Robbins afterwards. Perhaps it is little more than empty calories—plus a wicked sugar high to boot. Still, the summer would be an awful lot plainer without both.

On second thought, so loving and exact a send-up of those romantic backstage musicals of yesteryear can't exactly be termed empty, particularly if audience members are subsequently inspired to check out the iconic films that inspired it. This couldn't be much easier: Both Gold Diggers of 1933 and 42nd Street (with which George Haimsohn and Robin Miller's book bears more than a passing resemblance) are now available on YouTube.

Theater veterans, feel free to chime in on the major plot points: All is not well as a new Broadway musical (also called Dames at Sea) is preparing to open. Leading diva Mona Kent is pulling rank and pulling numbers from the show, and the demolition crew slated to bulldoze the theater has arrived somewhat earlier than expected.

Against this backdrop, Ruby (yes, as in Broadway legend Keeler) walks in off the bus from Centerville, Utah, literally swooning to make the chorus in her first professional show. Right behind her is Dick (as in Powell), who has followed her all the way from Port Authority with her single suitcase that she left behind. Dick's a songwriter, by the way. He's also in the Navy. And that should be almost all the information you need to connect the rest of the dots in this best of all possible worlds.

The deliberately minimal production values in this Hot Summer Nights production hearkens back to Dames' off-off-Broadway origins. This would be appropriate, since the first joke this show cracked in 1966 has largely been forgotten in its previous local productions. It's the one about a handful of actors, two keyboardists and a drummer producing a Busby Berkeley musical on a stage the size of a living room.

Director/ choreographer Tito Hernandez early on proved a taskmaker, saddling the likable Todd Michel Smith with a demanding dance number in the middle of his first solo, "Broadway Baby." Fortunately, the six characters and six ensemble members here met all challenges. Sara Spadacene is likely the show's center as a confident Joan, the unsinkable dance captain who takes Ruby the newbie under her wing. As Ruby, Emily Gardenhire keeps a straight face while singing and dancing heartfelt but comic paeans including "Raining in My Heart." Kate McMillan has the pipes and the stage presence, but not necessarily the years, to convince as dragon lady Mona Kent. Veteran actor Adam Twiss waltzes through supporting roles including a grizzled Broadway producer and the prim Captain Courageous, while Jim Dadosky's energy and enthusiasm sells somewhat weaker material in his role as Dick's friend, Lucky.

Served chilled on the hottest days and nights of the year, this daffy tribute to old-school showbiz has enough zing in it to remind us what was great about the originals.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Fair weather."

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